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1 The Collision Of Cultures
2 Britain And Its Colonies
3 Colonial Ways Of Life
4 The Imperial Perspective
5 From Empire To Independence
6 The American Revolution
7 Shaping A Federal Union
8 The Federalist Era
9 The Early Republic
10 Nationalism And Sectionalism
11 The Jacksonian Impulse
12 The Dynamics Of Growth
13 An American Renaissance: Religion, Romanticism, And Reform
14 Manifest Destiny
15 The Old South
16 The Crisis Of Union
17 The War Of The Union
18 Reconstruction: North And South
19 New Frontiers: South And West
20 Big Business And Organized Labor
21 The Emergence Of Urban America
22 Gilded-age Politics And Agrarian Revolt
23 An American Empire
24 The Progressive Era
25 America And The Great War
26 The Modern Temper
27 Republican Resurgence And Decline
28 New Deal America
29 From Isolation To Global War
30 The Second World War
31 The Fair Deal And Containment
32 Through The Picture Window: Society And Culture, 19451960
33 Conflict And Deadlock: The Eisenhower Years
34 New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s
35 Rebellion And Reaction In The 1960s And 1970s
36 A Conservative Insurgency
37 Triumph And Tragedy: America At The Turn Of The Century

Chapter 34: New Frontiers: Politics And Social Change In The 1960s

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New Frontiers: Politics and Social Change in the 1960s - Document Overview

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The election of John F. Kennedy as president in 1960 ushered in a decade of energetic idealism that bore fruit in the founding of the Peace Corps, the War on Poverty, and Great Society programs of federal assistance to the poor. The 1960s also witnessed a dramatic new phase of the civil rights movement. Kennedy was one of the first political leaders to recognize the vast number of people not only mired in poverty but also hidden from public awareness. And, even though Kennedy himself was reluctant to assault racial injustice in the segregated South because of the political clout of southern Democrats, events eventually forced him and his successor, Lyndon Johnson, to make civil rights a primary concern.

During the 1950s Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., an ordained black minister, emerged as the heroic and charismatic leader of the national civil rights movement. He fastened upon a brilliant strategy—nonviolent civil disobedience—to gain the attention and sympathy of a complacent nation. Through boycotts, marches, sit-ins, and other forms of protest, King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which he founded, forced authorities to confront the injustices of racism. His passionate commitment and uplifting rhetoric helped excite national concern, and his efforts led directly to major new legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment and public facilities, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed literacy tests and other measures used by local registrars to deny blacks access to the ballot. In 1964 King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Yet as time passed the civil rights movement began to fragment. The legal and political gains did not translate into immediate economic and social advances. Black neighborhoods continued to be plagued by crime and drug addiction, fatherless households, and intense frustration and alienation. On August 11, 1965, only five days after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, Watts, a black neighborhood in Los Angeles, erupted in a chaos of looting, arson, and violence. During the next three years, 300 more race riots occurred in inner-city communities across the nation. Over 200 people were killed, 7,000 injured, and 40,000 arrested. For many urban blacks outside the South, the mainstream civil rights movement had brought little tangible improvement in their lives. Most African Americans lived not in the rural South but in inner-city neighborhoods across the country, in major cities such as New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Newark, Chicago, and Los Angeles. Blacks living in urban ghettos faced chronic poverty, unemployment, decaying housing and schools, and police brutality.

Young black activists outside the South grew impatient with Dr. King's leadership and his commitment to integration within the larger white society. Black militants such as Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown rejected the non-violent civil disobedience promoted by King and the SCLC. For them, "Black Power" became the rallying cry in the mid-1960s.

The concept of "Black Power" grew out of the tradition of black nationalism—the belief that people with African roots share a distinctive culture and destiny. It fed upon the seething discontent with the pace of social change within the black ghettos of urban America. Malcolm X was the most compelling proponent of black nationalism. A convert to the Black Muslim (the Nation of Islam) faith led by Elijah Muhammad, he urged African Americans to organize themselves to take control of their communities "by any means necessary," including violence. Unlike King and the other leaders of SCLC, Malcolm X was not interested in promoting integration. "Our enemy is the white man," he exclaimed. His goal was a separate, self-reliant black community within the United States. Yet during late 1964 Malcolm X began to moderate his stance. He broke with the Black Muslims and began to talk of racial cooperation. His defection cost him his life. On February 21, 1965, Malcolm X was shot and killed by three Black Muslim assassins.

The militance displayed by Malcolm X survived among the younger proponents of "Black Power." During the summer of 1966 Stokely Carmichael led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) away from its original commitment to peaceful social change. His successor, H. Rap Brown, told the members of SNCC to grab their guns, burn the cities, and shoot the "honky to death." A group of young black militants in California led by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale shared these strong feelings and organized the Black Panther Party to engage in guerrilla violence against white authorities.

During each summer between 1965 and 1968, urban America was aflame with racial rioting. In 1967, for example, 87 people were killed and over 16,000 arrested. The violence prompted President Johnson in 1967 to appoint a special National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders headed by Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois to determine the causes of the racial turmoil. The Kerner Commission Report appeared in 1968. It called for a "compassionate, massive and sustained" commitment to racial equality and social justice "backed by the resources of the most powerful and richest nation on this earth." Unfortunately only a month after the report appeared, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. His tragic death sparked another outbreak of racial rioting across the country.

By the end of the 1960s the quest for racial equality had become interwoven with other powerful social currents, including the antiwar protests and the feminist movement. The combined energies of these and other crusades coupled with the conservative backlash they provoked threatened to unravel American society by the end of the 1960s.

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